Australian native edibles are a key feature of my edible garden. In this article, and coinciding with NAIDOC Week, I time-travel to the recent past to share my story on why I chose to grow bush food.
Long before I started this website, I was writing about food and the Sydney restaurant scene on Gourmantic. Every year-end, as I reflected on food trends, there was always one sore point that became increasingly evident to me year after year: the lack of bush food restaurants in Sydney and the rare use and knowledge of Australian native ingredients.
Those of us from a certain generation may remember the heydays of Edna’s Table, a restaurant in the heart of Sydney CBD that focused on indigenous Australian ingredients. Siblings Jennice and Raymond Kersh opened the original Edna’s Table in the early 1980s and until it closed in 2005, the restaurant was an institution and a popular haunt of foodies (before that term became a worn out cliché), media and politicians. I still remember every time my partner and I took our international visitors to dine there. They had never experienced anything like it or heard of ingredients such as lemon myrtle or warrigal greens, let alone eat beautifully prepared kangaroo and emu.
Tukka & Australian Native Edibles
During a media trip to Brisbane in 2016, a few months before its closure, we dined at Tukka, a restaurant by Executive Chef Bryant Wells. His menu was focused on native Australian ingredients, from the amuse bouche to dessert including a native charcuterie platter with native game meats, fruits, nuts, berries and spices presented on a platter made of indigenous timber (above photo). I found myself asking the same question. Why don’t we have accessible restaurants in Sydney that serve indigenous bush food?
High profile chefs such as Peter Gilmore at Quay and Bennelong, Jock Zonfrillo at Orana, Martin Benn at Sepia and Dan Hunter at Brae champion native produce in their kitchens and of course, there was René Redzepi at Noma Australia during his tenure in Sydney. While they are to be applauded for their amazing culinary talents and for bringing awareness to indigenous produce, these restaurants operate in the realm of fine dining and as such they are beyond many people’s budgets.
Australian Native Edibles and The Rise of Australian Craft Distilling
The rise of Australian craft distilling became a key factor in making the public more aware of native ingredients as distillers turned to indigenous Australian botanicals for their gin, rum and other spirits. As such, botanicals such as the lemon myrtle have become more widely known to the point of becoming almost ubiquitous in gin distillation.
And we followed along that path. In 2017, when we created our limited run gin with Master Distiller Reg Paps to celebrate Gourmantic’s 8th birthday, it was paramount that we used Australian native botanicals. Once we decided on the flavour profile for the gin, Gourmantic Birthday Gin 2017 was crafted using four traditional and four Australian native botanicals.
A highlight of my First Nations food education was a Native Foraging Masterclass by Adelaide Hills Distillery in 2017 with Larrakia man and former footballer Daniel Motlop of Something Wild. He introduced a range of wild-harvested native greens, fruit, herbs and spices before taking us through a tasting, explaining their benefits, cultural significance, the importance of sustainability of this produce and the opportunity it provides to indigenous communities. For the first time, I was surrounded with an abundance of indigenous Australian ingredients and I put my new-found knowledge in an article, Essential Guide to Australian Native Botanicals. Motlop has since launched Seven Seasons, his brand of spirits inspired by the seven seasons of the Larrakia people crafted with native Australian ingredients such as the bush apple, green ants and native yam.
Growing Australian Native Edibles in The Gourmantic Garden
When I started edible gardening in 2019, growing edible native plants was high on my list of priorities. Sourcing seeds and plants coupled with the lack of knowledge was certainly a challenge but not a deterrent. The day I discovered Indigigrow, a 100% Aboriginal owned and operated native plant nursery with a focus on bushfoods, it was better than Christmas. The expansive nursery is located at Phillip Bay near La Perouse and a short drive from home. Soon enough, I had set up an all-Australian native raised garden bed (featured on Gardening Australia), made some space for growing edibles in pots and in little time, I had amassed over 50 different Australian native plants in my tiny courtyard garden.
Aside from my garden, Indigigrow quickly became my other happy place and I became a regular. I now grow a variety of finger limes, native raspberries, myrtles (lemon, anise and curry), samphire, native herbs, Dianella, Geraldton Wax, lemon scented gum, warrigal greens, boobialla (native juniper), native ginger and murnong to name a few. I’ve even successfully grown bush tomato from seed I smoke-treated for better germination. Every visit to the nursery inspired me to learn more and challenged me to make space for new native species in the garden.
Celebrating First Nations produce in my garden on Bidgigal & Gadigal Country is about connecting with the land and its people, learning about the ancient culture and history of First Nations People and embracing a spiritual connection. Growing native plants creates a natural habitat for local wildlife and works in harmony with nature. It’s also about sharing my newfound knowledge with others, be it on this website or through my social media channels, encouraging home gardeners to grow, eat and drink garden-grown Australian bush foods.
A lot has changed in the last three years since I took up edible gardening. Australian native plants are more prevalent in nurseries and online businesses selling bush tucker plants. The interest in growing and learning about native bush foods by the gardening community, at least on social media has noticeably increased in the last couple of years.
We may be a long way away from having eateries serving indigenous food in every suburb but by growing our own, we’re a step closer to having native produce at our fingertips. If I can grow it in my tiny paved courtyard garden, imagine what can be achieved in a larger space.
Australians love to travel and when we venture abroad, we tend to embrace the culture, history and food of the host country. Why not do it, literally, in our very own backyard.
Note: All businesses mentioned in this article are those I support and recommend. This is not a sponsored post.
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